Three-year journey brings Mars rover to rim of crater
After a journey of almost three years moving over Martian terrain, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has reached the red planet’s Endeavour crater to study rocks never seen before.
On August 9, 2011, the golf-cart-sized rover relayed its arrival at a location named Spirit Point on the crater’s rim. Opportunity drove approximately 13 miles (21 kilometers) since climbing out of the Victoria crater in 2008.
Endeavour crater, which is more than 25 times wider than Victoria crater, is 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter. At Endeavour, scientists expect to see much older rocks and terrain than those examined by Opportunity during its first seven years on Mars. Endeavour became a tantalizing destination after NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter detected clay minerals that may have formed in an early warmer and wetter period.
Matthew Golombek, a science team member at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said:
We’re soon going to get the opportunity to sample a rock type the rovers haven’t seen yet. Clay minerals form in wet conditions, so we may learn about a potentially habitable environment that appears to have been very different from those responsible for the rocks comprising the plains.
The name Spirit Point informally commemorates Opportunity’s twin rover, which stopped communicating in March 2010. Spirit’s mission officially concluded in May.
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which launched August 12, 2005, is searching for evidence that water persisted on the Martian surface for a long period of time. Other Mars missions have shown water flowed across the surface in the planet’s history, but scientists have not determined if water remained long enough to provide a habitat for life.
NASA launched the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity in the summer of 2003. Both completed their three-month prime missions in April 2004 and continued years of extended operations. They made important discoveries about wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life.
Bottom line: NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has reached the Endeavour crater to study clay minerals that may have formed in an early warmer and wetter period. The rover relayed its arrival at a location named Spirit Point on the crater’s rim on August 9, 2011.